Friday, June 19, 2020

Grape Spotlight: Michigan Blaufrankisch

"Blaufrankisch is a variety that has shown it can not just grow well here, but can also make stylistically unique wines that can stand out on a broader stage. It's a wine that is exciting to introduce to people as it opens up a different definition to them of what a great red wine can be", Drew Perry, winemaker at Aurora Cellars
Blaufränkisch was the prized red grape in the Austro-Hungarian Empire having originated in Lower Styria, now part of Slovenia, and planted across the Carpathian Basin. Its name translates to 'Blue Frankish' or perhaps 'Blue Francs' based on either the blue coats or currency used by Napoleon’s troops after their conquest of Vienna. Blaufränkisch's offspring, Zweigelt, is the largest planted red grape in Austria whereas Blaufränkisch is centered in Burgenland - just across the border from Hungary and the Magyar plantings of Kékfrankos. From this Capital of Kékfrankos near Sopron, the grape spread where it is now the most planted red grape variety in Hungary -- Szekszard and Villany in particular. In Germany, Blaufränkisch is known as Lemberger most likely from the Lower Styria town of Lemberg pri Šmarju where the grape was apparently export to Deutschland.

In the United States, the grape is labeled either Lemberger or Blaufränkisch, with the later adopted in Michigan.  In the Great Lake state, Blaufränkisch is planted primarily in the northern wine regions of the Old Mission Peninsula and the Leelanau Peninsula - regions suitable for this late-ripening and cold-tolerant grape. Aurora Cellars has four acres planted in this last peninsula, the first three planted in 2007. According to Perry, the grape requires a long ripening season because "it tends to stall a bit at the end" and proper canopy management encourages early skin development and provides airflow that reduces disease pressure.  One result of this process is the Aurora Cellars 2016 Leelanau Peninsula Blaufrankisch ($34)  - aged 18 months in  French oak.  Like its Central European counterparts, this wine provided distinct black pepper notes upfront and a spicier pepper profile in the tail accompanied by a proper mouthfeel.  On the other hand, its fruit profile was dominated by blueberries as opposed to red or black cherries usually associated with Central Europe Blaufränkisch.  Nicely done.

Before Perry became the winemaker at Aurora, he was the assistant winemaker to Brian Ulbrich at Left Foot Charley. This winery grows Blaufränkisch at their Benzie vineyard (located on Lake Michigan) and at a new vineyard on the Old Mission Peninsula, in addition to sourcing from other small family-owned vineyards.  Ulbrich believes that the grape is well-suited for Michigan because it’s relatively winter hardy. With bud break arriving early and its late ripening, assuming no spring frost, then the grape has a long season to ripen. In the case of the Left Foot Charley 2018 Blaufränkisch ($22) - a blend from both the two vineyards mentioned above - this means a brighter fruit-forward profile showing juicy red cherries and developing structure.  Little spice on the front end and finish leaving a refreshing and friendly wine.

Friday, June 5, 2020

Puerto Rico Distillery: Providing Maryland with Clandestine Pitorro Rum

Pitorro is Puerto Rican moonshine -- and not of the corn whiskey persuasion that we are familiar with within the United States. It is, in fact, an artisan rum produced by distilling sugar cane and traditionally cured with fruit and buried for several months.  This process helps to balance the high alcohol volume.  And Puerto Rico's unofficial national spirit is now available in the Old Line State courtesy of Frederick's Puerto Rico Distillery

The distillery is led by the father-daughter team of Angel and Crystal Rivera and focuses on an unflavored pitorro weighing in at 100 proof.  This spirit is distilled from sugarcane molasses and has a funky character that seems to transcend other Caribbean moonshines -- thinking particularly of Hammond from Nevis. They are also currently aging batches infused with coconut, pineapple,
almond, coffee, and passion fruit that should be available later this year.

For now, the best use of the pitorro rum is in cocktails and the funkiness livens any concoction. A mojito is the top choice, but also consider with any fruit juice or with equal parts grapefruit juice and ginger beer. It is addicting.

Monday, June 1, 2020

Lockdown Cocktails - A Recap

During the COVID lockdown, I replaced my normal routine of simply pouring a neat glass of my favorite spirit and instead became more creative by mixing various cocktails using ingredients that were already available. This process including replacing some ingredients with equivalents such as tonic water with seltzer or simple sugar with dissolved honey. The cocktail recipes were posted on Instagram but with the lockdowns slowly easing the series will most likely be discontinued and thus recaptured in this post.

Tonight's #lockdowncocktail is a salute to Route 15 from Frederick MD to Harrisburg PA. The #cocktail contains a base of equal parts grapefruit juice and Appalachian Ginger Beer then augmented with a large shot (or two) of Puerto Rico Distillery Clandestino Pitorro Diaspora Rum and a dash or two of Tenth Ward Smoked Corn Whiskey for added aroma.  I will discuss the Clandestino in the near future, but for now, it's a style of moonshine that dates to 1797 and still an integral part of Puerto Rican culture.

Tonight's #lockdowncocktails are dueling recipes based on a post the week from the Wizard of Whiskey we followed his recipe using grapefruit tonic, Left Foot Charley 2017 Dry Riesling, and for gin, the Barr Hill Gin from Vermont's Caledonia Spirits and made from honey. Completely refreshing and the Riesling creates a creamy body and tamps down the botanicals.  On the other hand, when replacing the Riesling with the 12 Corners Vineyards 2017 Traminette, the botanicals burst forward in conjunction with the wine's aromatics. Combining the two creates a happy medium.

Tonight's #LockdownCocktail is The Bishop, a rum - red wine cocktail that comes from the 1935 printing of "The Old Waldorf-Astoria Bar Book" by A.S. Crockett. I used Cotton and Reed Sherried Cask Strength Rum and its honeyed nut character blended well with the 12 Corners Vineyards River Stone Red wine. The wine is a unique blend of five grape varieties leading with Chancellor and Chambourcin then rounding out with Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Cabernet Sauvignon. Its quite pleasant, fruit-forward berry flavors with a velvety texture, and a chewy smooth finish. 

3 ounces Cotton & Reed Sherried Cask Strength Rum ($50)
1 ounce 12 Corners River Stone Red wine ($14)
1 teaspoon simple syrup
1/2 lime (juice of)

The Cotton & Reed Sherried Cask Strength Rum starts out as White Rum ($29) made from Lousiana grown raw cane syrup and blackstrap molasses (6,000 pounds per batch) and fermented with a Rhum Agricole yeast strain and a Chenin Blanc yeast strain. The rum is then aged in used bourbon barrels just like their Mellow Gold Rum ($29). Afterward, the aging rum is transferred to PX Sherry seasoned casks where PX refers to Pedro Ximénez grapes aged in a solera system where the grape brandy undergoes oxidative aging for an Oloroso.

Today's #lockdowncocktail is the Horsefeather, a Kansas City favorite that legend says originated in nearby Lawrence, Kansas. It's related to the Moscow Mule trading the bourbon for J. Rieger & Co. Kansas City Whiskey ($40), Appalachian Ginger Beer, squeeze of lemon, and using the equivalent of Angostura bitters - Peychaud's Aperitivo. The cocktail sizzles in the mouth with a long spicy tail. And that's the last drop of an amazing whiskey where the corn, malted, and rye mash was fermented then aged in part in 15 year Oloroso sherry casks.

1.5 oz J. Rieger Whiskey
4 oz ginger beer
4-5 dashes Angostura bitters
1 squeeze of lemon

Here's a refreshing cocktail suggested by Golden Moon Distillery using their single varietal Grappa (2 oz), lime juice (1 oz), and simple syrup (3/4 oz). The grappa is made using chardonnay pomace from Bookcliff Vineyards. The cocktail is truly refreshing, any grappa sharpness is mediated by the lime juice and syrup. Cheers.

Tonight's #lockdowncocktail is based on an Italian recipe using grappa, cocoa liqueur, and coffee served in a martini glass as a dessert cocktail. I used my mead glass and combined equal parts Springfield Manor grappa and Blacksnake Meadery Red Queen Coffee Mead with a dash of FloraLuna Apothecary Cayenne bitters. Perhaps my favorite so far.

Another lockdown cocktail using existing spirits. This unnamed drink is 2 parts River Hill Spirits bourbon, .5 parts Golden Moon Distillery  Kummel, .5 parts honey water, and a dash of bitters. The Kummel and honey tame the heat, and the bourbon blends in with the caraway liqueur.

Cocktails with miniatures. Last night I discovered that Grappa Nonino Amaro is a great partner with Bourbon or Tennessee Whiskey and FloraLuna Apothecary Orange bitters.